Netball: Unbeaten Botswana win first Nations Cup after 65-37 victory over Fiji

Botswana coach Jenny van Dyk celebrates with her team after winning the Nations Cup at the OCBC Arena on Saturday. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE – When South African Jenny van Dyk took over the Botswana netball team in June, she had hoped to lead them to the 2023 World Cup by finishing in the top two in August’s qualifiers.

While they failed to book their spot in the 16-team tournament in Cape Town, she persisted. After working on the team’s fitness and basic skills, she went on to polish their tactics.

Those efforts paid off on Saturday. Van Dyk celebrated her 40th birthday in style as Botswana beat Fiji 65-37 at the OCBC Arena to clinch their first Nations Cup.

In the process, the world No. 31 side finished the six-team tournament unbeaten despite being the lowest-ranked team. Their previous best finish was second in 2008.

Van Dyk, who was hoisted by her players in celebration, could not stop beaming. She said: “I’m so proud of all of them. They really showed a lot of progress over the past few months.

“They were devastated (to miss out on the World Cup). If we just had a little bit more time, we would have been able to do it.

“At the end of the day, we’re building a new four-year cycle with them and, hopefully, getting the right type of match opportunities for us to build something amazing so, hopefully, we will (qualify next time).”

Her next task will be to help the team move up the world rankings and help players gain more international experience.

She noted: “Botswana didn’t have funds after Covid-19 and we didn’t play one international test match before the qualifiers, while all the other countries had plenty of time on court... You could see the difference at the qualifiers, but I’m proud of them.”

There was no let up from Botswana, who had beaten Fiji 60-43 in the round-robin stage last Sunday. Taking advantage of their aerial prowess, they raced to a 17-6 lead after the first quarter of Saturday’s final and never looked back.

They were also aided by sharp shooting from Boikanyo Selogetso, who had a 92 per cent conversion rate, and their tight defence, which made it difficult for Fiji to find a breakthrough.

Captain Fattimah Dino summed up their campaign in one word: “Wow.”

But once was not enough. She paused and repeated: “Wow.”

She added: “We are very happy to be champions. Our coach really helped us because you can see now that we are very competitive. In the past, we just came to participate but she’s helped us with training and we’ve worked hard.”

Botswana captain Fattimah Dino making an interception during the final against Fiji. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Despite the loss, Fiji coach Unaisi Rokoura said the tournament was a good experience. The world No. 15 team are the tournament’s highest-ranked side but had fielded a young squad with only two players with more than 14 caps.

She said: “The girls improved as they went along, but tonight Botswana wanted it more. They moved the ball really well and they got us on the one-on-one defence.

“This is the first time some of our girls are playing against teams with such a different style and this is what we’re expecting at the World Cup, so we need them to feel this.”

Meanwhile, world No. 30 Singapore finished third after beating 24th-ranked Ireland 52-36.

Singapore’s Kimberly Lim in action during the match against Ireland. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

The Republic’s coach Annette Bishop said: “There were a few moments where it could have gone either way, but they fought through it and stayed strong.

“The players try new things over and over and we keep pushing them. We’re trying to build a nice, strong unit and... they’re really stepping up.”

Veterans Kimberly Lim and Toh Kai Wei have been stalwarts for the team but newer players, including shooter Amandeep Kaur Chahal and defender Yew Shu Ning, have shone in the absence of seniors Charmaine Soh and Aqilah Andin.

Defender Sindhu Nair, 27, praised her younger teammates as well as the players in the development squad who competed as Singapore A.

“(The future) looks fantastic. They have been very outstanding... it’s very nice to see that so many people are playing very good netball.”

Singapore’s (from left) Amandeep Kaur Chahal, Toh Kai Wei and Kimberly Lim celebrating their win against Ireland. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Amandeep, 22, who made her international debut this year, highlighted that the injured Soh has been helping the shooters improve as well.

She also paid tribute to the 1,100-strong crowd that cheered at every goal and interception the hosts made. “During every shot and interception, there will always be a ‘woo!’ in the crowd and it always gives you this oomph to come back,” she said.

The 1,100-strong crowd cheered at every goal and interception the hosts made. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Singapore A, comprising mostly players from the developmental squad, finished last after a 47-40 defeat by Malaysia.

Final standings

  1. Botswana
  2. Fiji
  3. Singapore
  4. Ireland
  5. Malaysia
  6. Singapore A

Most valuable players

  1. Fattimah Dino (Botswana)
  2. Lydia Panapasa (Fiji)
  3. Sophie Murray (Ireland)
  4. Nur Amisya Khairuddin (Malaysia)
  5. Aqilah Andin (Singapore A)
  6. Yew Shu Ning (Singapore)

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